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Frida Kahlo

Mexican Painter

Movement: Surrealism

Born: July 6, 1907 - Coyoacan, Mexico City, Mexico

Died: July 13, 1954 - Mexico City, Mexico

Frida Kahlo Timeline

Important Art by Frida Kahlo

The below artworks are the most important by Frida Kahlo - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Frieda and Diego Rivera (1931)
Artwork Images

Frieda and Diego Rivera (1931)

Artwork description & Analysis: In many ways, Kahlo lived two lives: one as the wife of Diego Rivera, and the second as an eccentric and talented painter in her own right. During the majority of her painting career, however, the artist was seen in Rivera's shadow and it wasn't until late in life that the artist gained an international clientele and exhibition program. This early double-portrait was painted by Kahlo in celebration of her marriage to Rivera and accentuates Kahlo's interest in reconciling her identity as his wife rather than as an artist of equal status. Rivera holds a palette and paint brushes, symbolic of his artistic mastery, while Kahlo's short stature and lack of artistic accoutrements limits her role to his wife. Kahlo furthermore dresses in costume typical of the Mexican woman, or "La Mexicana," wearing a traditional red shawl known as the rebozo and jade Aztec beads. The positioning of the figures echoes that of traditional marital portraiture where the wife is placed on her husband's left to indicate her lesser moral status as a woman.

Oil on canvas - SFMOMA

My Grandparents, My Parents, and I (Family Tree) (1936)
Artwork Images

My Grandparents, My Parents, and I (Family Tree) (1936)

Artwork description & Analysis: This dream-like family tree was painted on zinc rather than canvas, a choice that indicates the artist's fascination with and collection of eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century Mexican retablos. Retablos were small paintings on metal made to thank God for his protection and grace. Kahlo completed this work to accentuate both her European Jewish heritage and her Mexican background. Her paternal side, German Jewish, occupies the right side of the composition symbolized by the sea, and her maternal side of Mexican descent is represented on the left by a map faintly outlining the topography of Mexico. While Kahlo's paintings are assertively autobiographical, she often used them to communicate transgressive or political messages: this painting was completed shortly after Adolf Hitler passed the Nuremberg laws banning interracial marriage. Here, Kahlo simultaneously affirms her interracial heritage to confront Nazi ideology, using a format - the genealogical chart - employed by the Nazi party to determine racial purity.

Oil and tempera on zinc - MoMA, New York

Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair (1940)
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Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair (1940)

Artwork description & Analysis: This self-portrait shows Kahlo as an androgynous figure. Scholars have seen this gesture as a confrontational response to Rivera's demand for a divorce, revealing the artist's injured sense of female pride and her self-punishment for the failures of her marriage. The cropped hair also presents a nuanced expression of the artist's identity. She holds one cut braid in her left hand while the hair from a second one lies scattered on the floor. The braids were a central element in Kahlo's identity as the traditional La Mexicana, and in the act of cutting off her braids, she rejects her former identity. The hair strewn about the floor echoes an earlier self-portrait painted as the Mexican folkloric figure La Llorana, here ridding herself of these female attributes. Finally, Kahlo inscribed the lyrics and music of a song that declares cruelly, "Look, if I loved you it was for your hair, now that you are hairless, I don't love you anymore," confirming Kahlo's own denunciation and rejection of her female roles.

Oil on canvas - MoMA, New York

Fulang-Chang and I (1937 (assembled after 1939))
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Fulang-Chang and I (1937 (assembled after 1939))

Artwork description & Analysis: This painting debuted at Kahlo's exhibition in Julien Levy's New York gallery in 1938, and was one of the works that most fascinated Andre Breton, the founder of Surrealism. The canvas in the New York show is a self-portrait of the artist and her spider monkey, Fulang-Chang, a symbol employed as a surrogate for the children she and Rivera never bore. The arrangement of figures in the portrait signals the artist's interest in Renaissance paintings of the Madonna and child. After the New York exhibition, a second frame containing a mirror was added. The later inclusion of the mirror is a gesture inviting the viewer into the work: it was through looking at herself intensely in a mirror in her months spent at home after her bus accident that Kahlo first began painting portraiture and delving into the deepest expression of her psyche. The inclusion of the mirror, considered from this perspective, is a remarkably intimate vision into both the artist's aesthetic process and into her personal introspection.

In two parts, oil on composition board (1937) with painted mirror frame (added after 1939); and mirror with painted mirror frame (after 1939) - MoMA, New York

The Two Fridas (Las dos Fridas) (1939)
Artwork Images

The Two Fridas (Las dos Fridas) (1939)

Artwork description & Analysis: This double self-portrait is one of Kahlo's most recognized compositions, and is symbolic of the artist's pain during her divorce from Rivera and the subsequent transitioning of her constructed identity. On the right, the artist is shown in modern European attire, wearing the costume she donned prior to her marriage to Rivera. Throughout their marriage, given Rivera's strong nationalism, Kahlo became increasingly interested in indigenism and began to explore traditional Mexican costume, which she wears in the portrait on the left. It is the Mexican Kahlo that holds a locket with an image of Rivera. The stormy sky in the background, and the artist's bleeding heart - a fundamental symbol of Catholicism and also symbolic of Aztec ritual sacrifice - accentuate Kahlo's personal tribulation and physical pain. Symbolic elements frequently possess multiple layers of meaning in Kahlo's pictures; the recurrent theme of blood represents both metaphysical and physical suffering, gesturing also to the artist's ambivalent attitude toward accepted notions of womanhood and fertility.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, Mexico City, Mexico

Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940)
Artwork Images

Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940)

Artwork description & Analysis: The frontal position and direct stare of Kahlo in this self-portrait directly confronts and engages the viewer. The artist wears Christ's unraveled crown of thorns as a necklace that digs into her neck, signifying her self-representation as a Christian martyr and the enduring pain from her failed marriage. A dead hummingbird, a symbol in Mexican folkloric tradition of luck charms for falling in love, hangs in the center of her necklace. A black cat - symbolic of bad luck and death - crouches behind her left shoulder, and a spider monkey gifted from Rivera, symbolic of evil, is included to her right. Kahlo frequently employed flora and fauna in the background of her bust length portraits to create a tight, claustrophobic space, using the symbolic element of nature to simultaneously compare and contrast the link between female fertility with the barren and deathly imagery of the foreground.

Oil on canvas on masonite - Nikolas Muray Collection, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Weeping Coconuts (Cocos gimientes) (1951)
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Weeping Coconuts (Cocos gimientes) (1951)

Artwork description & Analysis: This still life is exemplary of Kahlo's late work. More frequently associated with her psychological portraiture, Kahlo painted still lifes throughout her career depicting produce and objects native to Mexico and painted many small-scale still lifes as she grew progressively ill. The anthropomorphism of the fruit in this composition is symbolic of Kahlo's projection of pain into the composition as her health deteriorated at the end of her life. In contrast with the tradition of the cornucopia signifying plentiful and fruitful life, the arrangement of fruit in the composition reveals the fleshy and overripe interiors of the fruit, alluding to the dualism of life and death. A small Mexican flag bearing the affectionate and personal inscription "Painted with all the love of Frida Kahlo," is stuck into a prickly pear, signaling Kahlo's use of the fruit as an emblem of personal expression. During this period, the artist was heavily reliant on drugs and alcohol to alleviate her pain resulting in a lack of precision and a naively constructed composition.

Oil on board - Los Angeles County Museum of Art



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Frida Kahlo Photo

Related Art and Artists

Portrait of Lupe Marin (1938)
Artwork Images

Portrait of Lupe Marin (1938)

Artist: Diego Rivera

Artwork description & Analysis: In this magnificent portrait of his second wife from whom he separated the previous decade, Rivera again reveals his profound artistic debt to the European painting tradition. Utilizing a device deployed by such artists as Velazquez, Manet, and Ingres—and which Rivera would himself use in his 1949 portrait of his daughter Ruth—he portrays his subject partially in reflection through his depiction of a mirror in the background. The painting's coloration and the subject's expressive hands call to mind another artistic hero, El Greco, while its composition and structure suggest the art of Cézanne.

Oil on canvas - Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City

Egg in the church or The Snake (Date Unknown)
Artwork Images

Egg in the church or The Snake (Date Unknown)

Artist: André Breton

Artwork description & Analysis: Egg in the church or The Snake is an example of photographic collage that was popularized by Surrealists like Breton and Man Ray. Typical of Breton, the title is both symbolic and enigmatic and its subject matter is cryptic and dream-like. It exemplifies the Surrealist interest in the female body as form, as well as an interest in themes concerning sexuality and religion, as elucidated by Georges Bataille. Bataille's text dealt, in part, with Christianity's repression of desire. Breton and his colleagues aspired to reduce all sexual repressions to symbols and language that would serve freedom of expression.

Collage on Paper - Musee d'Ixelles

Self-Portrait (ca. 1937-38)
Artwork Images

Self-Portrait (ca. 1937-38)

Artist: Leonora Carrington

Artwork description & Analysis: This painting perfectly summarizes Carrington's skewed perception of reality and exploration of her own femininity. The artist has painted herself posed in the foreground on a blue armchair, wearing androgynous riding clothes, facing outward to the viewer. She extends her hand toward a female hyena, and the hyena imitates Carrington's posture and gesture, just as the artist's wild mane of hair echoes the coloring of the hyena's coat. Carrington frequently used the hyena as a surrogate for herself in her art and writing; she was apparently drawn to this animal's rebellious spirit and its ambiguous sexual characteristics. In the window in the background, a white horse (which may also symbolize the artist herself) gallops freely in a forest. A white rocking horse in a similar position appears to float on the wall behind the artist's head, a nod to the fairytales of the artist's early childhood. Carrington had been raised in an aristocratic household in the English countryside and often fought against the rigidity of her education and upbringing. This painting, with its doublings, its transformations, and its contrast between restriction and liberation, seems to allude to her dramatic break with her family at the time of her romance with Max Ernst. The distorted perspective, enigmatic narrative, and autobiographical symbolism of this painting demonstrate the artist's attempt to reimagine her own reality.

Oil on canvas - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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